This past month, I went to Suwon to visit Sejin, one of the counselors I met at Sup Sogui Hosu, the Korean Camp at Concordia Language Villages. While there, I also got to see a lot of the city of Seoul, which I considered my first real visit to the city, because I had only seen a museum there during my first visit to the city. Upon visiting it, I felt that Seoul was definitely one of my favorite cities in the world.
To go to Suwon, I took the train from Gunsan. For me, the train ride was already an interesting experience, because it isn't really a travel option for me in the United States. I have taken trains before, but never as the only mode of transportation for a trip and also never alone. It was not too difficult to do the trip though, because I only had to take one train and get off at the correct stop. In Suwon Station, I met with Sejin and we took the bus over to his apartment so that I could leave my bag there. After having lunch with him and his wife, I was going to be spending the day in Seoul. To get there, Sejin and I took a bus from Suwon to Seoul. It was a long trip, but Sejin had a movie on his computer that we watched.
Once in Seoul, we got onto the subway and went to Insadong, which is a district of the city that has many more traditional shops. Where we first walked into the main street, a large crowd had gathered around a group performing traditional dance. They were wearing masks and were accompanied by musicians playing the traditional Samulnori instruments. From there, we walked down the street, looking at the many shops. One of the most memorable for me was a large tea shop that had free samples of their tea from Jeju Island. We got into the line that had formed inside the shop and had some of the best green tea I have ever tasted.
From the market, we walked a few blocks away to wander the streets of the Bukchon Hanok Village. A hanok is a traditional Korean house, and this area was notable for the sheer quantity of them being preserved in one place. It was interesting to see the beautiful architecture of the houses in this part of the city. While we were looking around, there was a Chinese travel show that was also filming in the area, so there is a possibility that we might have made it onto Chinese television.
After seeing the Hanok Village, we walked over to the National Folk Museum at Gyeonbokgung. It was part of a large complex around Gyeonbokgung Palace. We looked at some of the buildings in the area that we didn't have to pay for, as I might be going back to see the Palace during the Rotary-sponsored Seoul Trip that I will be taking later in the month. From there, we walked by Gwanghwamun, the Gate to the Palace, and over to Cheonggyecheon, which is a reclaimed stream that goes through part of the city. Along the stream, they had walkways, bridges, art, and greenery that made it into an interesting walk.
We turned off from Cheonggyecheon after a few blocks, and we went to Namdaemun Market, which is one of the busiest market districts in Seoul. It was rather overwhelming, because there were people everywhere. Our major stop here was to get dinner. We went to a noodle shop that had extremely good food and was apparently rather well-known. When we went in, the restaurant was crowded, but we were able to get a spot very quickly. When we were leaving, the line stretched out the door.
Once we left Namdaemun Market, we took a cab to Namsan Mountain to see the North Seoul Tower (also called Namsan Tower). To get up the mountain and to the tower, we climbed up the stairs instead of taking the cable car that most people take, which has a very long wait. As soon as we reached the tower, they announced that they would be starting the tower light show, so we sat down, and watched the light show that was projected onto the tower. We were extremely happy with our good timing to see that show. Although we didn't go up to the observation deck on the tower, we admired the view and the attractions around the base of the tower. One of the most interesting of these attractions is the many locks that are attached to the fence on part of the viewing space on the top of the mountain. The reason for these are that couples will write a love message on a lock, attach it to the fence and then throw the keys for the lock over the fence. After we finished at Namsan Tower, we took a bus to get back down. Because of the large demand to go up and down the mountain, the bus was one of the most crowded that I have been on. When we got down from the mountain, we took the bus back to Suwon and went to bed very tired.
The next day, I went with Sejin and his wife to pick up their kids from their grandparents' house in a nearby city. I spent most of the day with the whole family. We did not do as much on this day, because I was very tired, but I got to see more of the city of Suwon. We visited one of Suwon's major attractions, Hwaseong, a fortress wall that extends around the main part of the city. Here, I walked around part of the wall with Sejin and his daughter. It was interesting to see the ties to all of Korea's history still being visible in a major way. Most of that day I got to spend with Sejin and his family, which was something that I really appreciated. The next morning I had to take the train back to Gunsan.
Editor's note: P.J.?Sproule is a Rotary Youth Exchange student from the Houghton Rotary Club living near Seocheon, South Korea, for a year.